Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thoughts on the Widow's Offering in Luke 20:1-4

This narrative episode begins in 19:45 and carries through to 21:38.  It is thus important to hold together the various scenes and how they are related to one another, and not isolate them from the narrative co-text or episode in which they occur.  So let us take a brief look at the scenes before our episode and establish the contextual features that may shape the way we understand the rest of this section.  An overview of the chapter with its various narrative scenes looks something like this:
Conflict with the Jerusalem Leadership (19:45-21:4)
  1.     The Prophetic Demonstration in the Temple (19:45-48)
  2. The Question of Jesus’ Authority (20:1-8).  See especially 20:8.
  3. Jerusalem’s Unfaithful Leadership (20:9-19).  See especially 20:19.
  4. The Question of Caesar’s Authority (and the Priority of the Temple) (20:20-26).
  5. The Question of Moses’ Authority (20:27-40).
  6. The Question of the Messiah’s Authority (20:41-44).
  7. Warning to the Disciples (20:45-21:4)
  8. Prophecy of Judgement on the Temple (21:5-6)
We are now ready to take a closer look at 20:45-21:6

Vs. 45 In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples:

Vs. 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets.

The teaching is directed specifically at the disciples because they are not to emulate fellow teachers in certain respects.  They provide a counter-example for what Jesus is advocating.  This is seen in Jesus’ stringent critique of their quest for status and honour in the community at the expense of faithfulness to the heart of Torah. 
“Long robes,” like refers to “the outer garment by which a person is noted for his or her status.”[1]  This is in keeping with a Lukan theme where clothes note social status (cf. 7:25; 8:26-35; 16:19).
“‘Best seats’ [πρωτοκαθεδρία] and ‘places of honour’ [πρωτοκλισία] translate parallel Greek terms, both signifying the location of the seats reserved for the “first” among the gathered assembly.”[2]  This teaching is echoed in other places of Luke’s gospel (11:43; 14:7-11), suggesting an emphasis on religious leaders who want to be treated as wealthy benefactors.[3]
The four phrases used in 20:46 to characterise the teachers of the law are all ways of indicating claims to advanced social position through nonverbal behaviour.  Each illuminates the attempt of the teachers of the law to lay claim to exalted social status. 

Vs. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.

The scribes have been shown to be inadequate interpreters of scripture (20:41-44).[4]  This failure of interpretation is now illustrated in their lives as they engage in activities that are not faithful to the scriptures. 
How exactly do they devour widows’ houses?  Fitzmyer lists several options.[5]
a)      Scribes accepted payment for legal aid to widows, even though such payment was forbidden.
b)      Scribes cheated widows of what was rightly theirs; as lawyers, they were acting as guardians appointed by a husband’s will to care for the widow’s estate.[6]
c)      Scribes sponged on the hospitality of these women of limited means, like the gluttons and gourmands mentioned in Ass. Mos. 7:6.
d)     Scribes mismanaged the property of widows like Anna who had dedicated themselves to the service of the Temple.
e)      Scribes took large sums of money from credulous old women as a reward for the prolonged prayer which they professed to make on their behalf.
f)       Scribes took the houses as pledges for debts which could not be paid.
 Jesus' response to this treatment of the poor widows is a pronouncement of greater condemnation.  The poor widow, a symbol of all those vulnerable in socieity, has been taken advantage of by the very system that was supposed to care for her.  As Green notes,
Jesus has gone on the offensive against them, and the ultimate charge he can lay against them is their participation in behaviours and their perpetuation of a system that victimizes widows, counted among the weakest members of society, whom both the law and leadership were to protect.[7]

Vs. 1   He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury;

Vs. 2   he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  

A λεπτός was a small copper coin.  A usual day’s wages was 120 lepta.  The offering was insignificant. The widow is described as “poor” but this is not the usual word πτωχοί (Lk. 4:18; 6:20; 7:22; 14:13, 21; 16:20, 22; 18:22; 19:8; 21:3) but another rare word, πενιχρός (Exod. 22:24; Prov. 28:15; 29:7; Lk. 21:2).  BDAG defines the word as “pertaining to being in need of things relating to livelihood).[8]  This women therefore has no income.  She is destitute.  What happens to her now that she has given all that she has?  How will she support herself?  Where will she get money for food, shelter and other necessities?  What are her options?  Slavery?  Prostitution?  Death? 
The scene deliberately contrasts the giving of the wealthy verses the giving of the poor.  The wealthy give with no consequence, but this poor widow has now sacrificed everything she has.  The wealthy thus give to a corrupt system, but with no real negative consequence to themselves.  The poor give to a corrupt system, but at great negative cost to themselves. 

Vs. 3   He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;

Vs. 4   for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Is Jesus’ offering this widow’s giving as an exemplary paradigm to be embraced and imitated?  Or, is Jesus offering a decisive and lament worthy illustration of the result of crooked scribes “devouring widows’ houses”? 
The inner disposition and outward bearing of the widow are not described or hinted at in the text, and nothing is said about divine vs. human measuring of gifts, because those are not the point of the story. And finally there is no praise of the widow in the passage and no invitation to imitate her, precisely because she ought not to be imitated.[9]
Thus, it is contextually more appropriate to read this narrative as specifically related to the warning Jesus is giving to the disciples.  Here, as so often in the gospels, we have a real illustration of the teaching/warning Jesus has just given concerning the scribes and those associated with the templ. 
The poverty of the widow, who gave her last pennies to the temple, illustrates what Jesus meant when he said that the teachers devour widows’ houses.  The poor are robbed, and the oppressive deeds are covered up with a show of prayer and religiosity.[10]

Vs. 5   And they were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said

Vs. 6   “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

If, indeed, Jesus is opposed to the devouring of widows’ houses, how could he possibly be pleased with what he sees here?[11]
And the evidence that Jesus is not pleased with what has happened to the widow, is seen here in his pronouncement of judgement.  This beautiful temple, dedicated to God, has become a symbol of oppression and abuse, and therefore does not represent God faithfully. 
And thus does Luke draw attention to a system, the temple treasury itself, set up in in such a way that it feeds off those who cannot fend for themselves.  What is worse, because it is the temple treasury, it has an inherent claim to divine legitimation.  How could it be involved in injustice?  It is God’s own house!  This widespread assumption about the temple only highlights the necessity of Jesus’ criticism of the temple, a criticism already began in 19:41-48.  Because it has fallen into the hands of those who use it for injustice, Jesus must comport himself and his message over against the temple and its leadership in prophetic judgement.[12] 
So this narrative episode begins with a prophetic utterance of judgement noting that the temple is filled with "robbers", it ends with a prophetic utterance of judgement, "not one stone will be left standing."  Throughout the various scenes in this episode, there is conflict between Jesus and the scribes, those associated with the temple.  Just before the pronouncement of judgement, Jesus offers his disciples a stark warning: The scribes are selfish and corrupt, and they are taking advantage of poor widows, and they will receive the greater condemnation.  Jesus then notes a specific example of a poor widow being taken advantage of, and walks out of the temple and announces one last time that the temple, along with those associated with it, will be judged. 

Many, including myself, have been guilty of using this text in a manner not faithful to the context and intent of Jesus.  With this passage we have a stark indication that sometimes our traditional understandings of Scripture are utterly misguided and mistaken, and perhaps driven by pragmatic or contemporary concerns. 
Critical exegesis is supposed to inform preaching, piety, and church thinking; but one wonders to what extent preaching, piety, and church interests have affected critical exegesis in the history of the interpretation of this text.[13]
This is why it is so important to always examine the narrative context in which we read specific stories.  The context must help us determine the intent of the author. 
What is the significance of this story for Churches and Christians today?

[1] Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, 726.  See E.g., Gen 41:14, 41-42; Esth 6:8; 1 Chr. 15:27; 2 Chr 5:12; 1 Macc 6:15. 
[2] Green, 727.
[3] Green, “Good News,” 66-67.
[4] Green, 725.
[5] Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 1318.
[6] See J. D. M. Derrett, “‘Eating Up the Houses of Widows’: Jesus’s Comment on Lawyers?” NovT 14 (1972): 1-9.
[7] Green, 725.
[8] BDAG #5776.
[9] A. G. Wright, “The Widow’s Mite: Praise or Lament? – A Matter of Context,” CBQ 44 (1982): 256-65, here, 262-63.
[10] Evans, Luke, 302.
[11] Wright, The Widow’s Mite,” 262.
[12] Green, 728-29.
[13] Wright, “The Widow’s Mite,” 65.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Witherington on the Audience of 1 Peter

I'll outline a few of the reasons why Ben Witherington has offered the view that the audience is predominantly Jewish.
1:17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.
2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Witherington sees these as suggesting a Jewish audience, since they would naturally refer to Jews and not to Gentiles. For when are Gentiles ever referred to as exiles in their own regions? [Witherington, 2007; 28]. Furthermore, Witherington asserts that vs. 9 "is a direct echo of the Petateuch's report of what God said to Israel." [pg. 28]
On one of the two decisive passages in 1 Peter that appear to suggest a Gentile audience, Witherington suggests, regarding 2:10 that:
First Peter 2:10 is frequently seen to be a clear proof that the audience must be Gentiles. Here we have an intertextual echo or partial quotation of Hosea 1:9-10. Could our author really have been referring to Jews by phrases like “once you were not a people” or “once you had received no mercy”? This in some ways is a very odd question when one reads the original text of Hosea in its own context, where Hosea is clearly speaking of and about Jews, and offering a prophetic critique of their behavior. The prophet is indeed talking about Israel being temporally rejected and then restored. Thus there is no good reason why the author of 1 Peter could not be using this language in the same way as some of his own Jewish contemporaries. The key perhaps is to recognize that our author, himself a Jew, reflects the view of over-Hellenized Diaspora Jews that was not uncommon among more Torah-true Jews, who had been raised and lived in a more conservative environment in the Holy Land. For instance, consider the reaction of Qumranic Jews to Hellenized Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere. [28-29]
Witherington's got a point.  But is this enough to establish that the audience is Jewish? 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Journey Motif in 1 Peter

Troy Martin helpfully outlines the journey motif in 1 Peter. 
Their journey began when God called them (1.15; 2.21; 3.9; 5.10) and they were redeemed (1.18) and born anew (1.23). Their journey’s destination is the revelation of Jesus Christ (1.13) and his glory (4.13), when they receive their inheritance (3.9), exaltation (5.6) and salvation (2.2), and are established by God (5.10). In between their beginning and destination is the time of their sojourn (1.17; 2.11; 4.2; 5.10) when they need to continue their journey. I then comment that this general image of diaspora life sets up the rhetorical situation of 1 Peter.  In my opinion, the recipients’ need to continue their journey is the ‘controlling exigence which functions as the organizing principle’ of the rhetorical situation in 1 Peter. Even though suffering resulting in the recipients’ experience of dishonour rather than honour is frequently mentioned in 1 Peter, it does not account for the entirety of the paraenesis in the letter as well as the journey motif does. ‘Girding up the loins’ (1.13), ‘being sober’ (1:13; 5.8), ‘being alert’ (5.8), ‘putting of unnecessary baggage (2.1) and ‘arming oneself’ (4.1) are all prudent considerations for a journey. The danger of encountering wild beasts (5.8) is characteristic of a journey.  The term ἀναστροφή (‘course of life’), used throughout the letter, semantically relates to journey or travel ideas.  Terms such as ‘strangers’ and ‘aliens’ were used to refer to the transient status of Jewish wanderers in the diaspora and also allude to the journey image in 1 Peter.  The notion of Christ as a shepherd to whom the recipients have returned (2:25) and whom they now follow (2:21) are descriptions of their journey.  The notion that the recipients like living stones (2:5) are coming to the living stone (2:4) to compose a temple is similar to the journey image in 1 Enoch.  Just as God’s call precipitates the return journey from exile and dispersion, so also in 1 Peter God’s call (1:15; 2:9, 21; 3:9; 5:10) initiates the recipients’ present journey.  Their need to continue this journey is the controlling exigence of the rhetorical situation in 1 Peter, and the paraenesis throughout the letter specifically addresses this need. [1]

[1] Troy W. Martin, “The Rehabilitation of a Rhetorical Step-Child: First Peter and Classical Rhetorical Criticism,” in Reading First Peter With New Eyes. Methodolocial Reassessments of the Letter of First Peter. Eds. R. L. Webb and B. Bauman-Martin. LNTS. (London: T & T Clark, 2007), 41-71, here, 57-58.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Judicial Rhetoric in 1 Peter

Troy Martin offers the following reflection judicial aspects of 1 Peter. 
Although 1 Peter is not designed for the courtroom, several passages mention a forensic social location.  The divine Father, whom the recipients of the letter invoke, is the one who impartially judges every human on the basis of deeds (1:17).  This same God is described as he who judges justly (2:23), and those who live disobedient lives will give an account to him who is ready to judge both the living and the dead (4:4-5).  This judgment begins with the household of God and does not bode well for those outside this household (4:17-18).  This judgement occurs on the day of visitation (2:12) when Jesus Christ is revealed (1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:4) and the faithful within the household are vindicated.  In addition to the mention of this divine judgement, several passages refer to human judicial settings.  Governors, send by the Lord, punish evil doers but praise those who do good (2:14-15).  The recipients of the letter must be prepared to make a defence to those who call them to given an account (3:15).  In both the divine and human judicial settings, the paraenesis in the letter expresses the conduct that will enable the recipients to avoid condemnation and to receive vindication on the basis of their righteous deeds.  Although 1 Peter is not a speech designed for the courtroom, it is perhaps a pre-trial letter advising conduct that will enable the recipients to obtain a favourable judgment in both the divine and human judicial settings mentioned in the letter.[1]
Martin does not argue that 1 Peter conforms to the species of judicial rhetoric, but rather suggests these as elements of that rhetorical species in 1 Peter. 

[1] Troy W. Martin, “The Rehabilitation of a Rhetorical Step-Child: First Peter and Classical Rhetorical Criticism,” in Reading First Peter With New Eyes. Methodolocial Reassessments of the Letter of First Peter. Eds. R. L. Webb and B. Bauman-Martin. LNTS. (London: T & T Clark, 2007), 41-71, here, 46-47.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Bibliography on Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2)

I'm currently doing some work on Phoebe, mentioned in Romans 16:1-2.  Here's the passage in Greek with my translation:
Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν, οὖσαν [καὶ] διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς,  ἵνα αὐτὴν προσδέξησθε ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων καὶ παραστῆτε αὐτῇ ἐν ἂν ὑμῶν χρῄζῃ πράγματι· καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐτοῦ.
I recommend to you Phoebe, our sister, being a minister of the church at Cenchreae, in order that you may receive her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and   aid her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
Below you will find a list of books and articles that deal specifically with Phoebe.  If I've missed out anything significant, please let me know.  I'm particularly interested in published works, but if there are internet articles, I'd consider them.  Enjoy! 
Bibliography on Phoebe
Arichea, D. C. “Who was Phoebe? Translating Diakonos in Romans 16:1, BT 39 (1988), 401-409.
Bassler, J. M. “Phoebe, in Carol Meyers (ed.) Women in Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 134-135.
Bieringer, R. “Women and Leadership in Romans 16: The Leading Roles of Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia in Early Christianity: Part I, East Asian Pastoral Review 44 (2007), 221-237.
Campbell, J. C. Phoebe: Patron and Emissary. Paul’s Social Network: Brothers and Sisters in Faith; Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2009.
Clarke, A. D. “Jew and Greek, Slave and Free, Male and Female: Paul’s Theology of Ethnic, Social and Gender Inclusiveness in Romans 16,” in Rome in the Bible and the Early Church, Peter Oakes (ed.) Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 103-125.
Cotter, W. “Women’s Authority Roles in Pauls Churches: Countercultural or Conventional” NovT 36 (1994), 350-372.
Croft, S. “Text Messages: The Ministry of Women and Romans 16, Anvil 21 (2004), 87-94.
Ellis, E. E. “Paul and His Co-Workers, NTS 17 (1977), 437-452.
Ellis, E. E. Paul and His Coworkers, DPL, 183-189.
Fiorenza, E. S. “Missionaries, Apostles, Co-workers: Romans 16 and the Reconstruction of Women’s Early Christian History, WW 6 (1986), 420-433.
Goodspeed, E. J. “Phoebe’s Letter of Introduction,” HTR 44 (1951), 56-57.
Jewett, R. “Paul, Phoebe, and the Spanish Mission,” in J. Neusner, et al. (eds.). The Social World of Formative Christianity and Judaism: Essays in Tribute to Howard Clark Kee. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988, 144-64.
Kearsley, R. A. “Women in the Public East: Iunia Theodora, Claudia Metrodora and Phoebe, Benefactress of Paul,” TynBul 50 (1999), 189-21.
MacMullen, R. “Women in Public in the Roman Empire,” Historia 29 (1980), 208-218.
Mathew, Susan. Women in the Greetings of Rom 16.1-16:  A Study of Mutuality and Women's Ministry in the Letter to the Romans. LNTS. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2013.
Ng, E. Y. “Phoebe as Prostatis, TJ 25 (2004), 3-13.
Osiek, C. “Diakonos and Prostatis: Women’s Patronage in Early Christianity,” HTS 61 (2005), 347-370.
Romaniuk, K. “Was Phoebe in Romans 16, 1 a Deaconess?ZNW 81(1990), 132-34.
Schulz, R. R. “A Case for “President Phoebe in Romans 16:2, LTJ 24 (1990), 124-27.
Thomas, W. D. “Phoebe: A Helper of Many, ExpTim 95 (1984), 336-337.

Trebilco, P.R. “Women as Co-workers and Leaders in Paul's Letters.” Journal of the Christian Brethren Research Fellowship 122 (1990): 27-36.

Whelan, C. F. “Amica Pauli: The Role of Phoebe in the Early Church, JSNT 49 (1993), 67-85.